A Walk in the Páirc

Saturday evening was as easy as it’s been in a long time on the terraces. Or the easiest since the footballers’ dismissal of Limerick the previous Saturday anyway.

The last time things were so straight forward was probably the replay against Waterford in 2014. That came after leaving it much too close for comfort in the drawn encounter, but there was no mistake made in the replay. It was a fourteen point margin five years ago, thirteen on Saturday last, but watching back the highlights of 2014, it felt like much longer than five years though much of the same personnel are still present.

The most memorable thing about that game was Stephen O’Keeffe charging down an Anthony Nash penalty, and the sudden, national and grave concerns for ‘the safety of players’. Of course such concerns have never spread to enforcing the wearing of the proper helmet, shoulder charges into the chest, the ripping off of helmets, WWE-style clotheslines or, to highlight an incident from the same game in 2014, striking.

Ger Loughnane maintained that as Damien Cahalane was “hit in a place that caused no major damage” it should have been left go. Yet we have the ‘Nash rule’. Safety indeed. Anyway, the digression is the ultimate evidence of the ease of Saturday’s victory.

Of course, Cork faced a similar challenge against Waterford last year in that Waterford were already out of the championship. Cork made hard work of it then but it was easy to draw on that experience going into Saturday. And there was also the fact that it was a must win game for Cork whereas last year they were pretty much qualified.

Also, in a competition where scoring difference could come into play, it was important that Cork didn’t let their scoring standards drop. Limerick had beaten them heavily the weekend before but crucially, Clare only came out of Walsh Park with a one point victory.

Cork did everything that could have been asked of them on Saturday night. Any time you register 2-30 is a good day and the spread of scorers was pleasing too. Alan Cadogan got more time on the pitch, Luke Meade and Daniel Kearney continued on from where they left off in Limerick and Patrick Horgan continues to display his unparalleled excellence.

Alan Cadogan’s absence was never more pronounced than it was in Croke Park last July. His return to the ranks has opened up a world of possibilities. Shane Kingston and Conor Lehane came off the bench knowing that they had to perform and were keen to show what they can do. It’s hard to imagine that only a month ago the bench against Tipp looked so sparse in comparison.

The same applies to the defence. Niall O’Leary and Robert Downey have freshened things up and there are plenty of options on the bench if things go awry. Speaking of Downey, it was clear that he was paying close attention to Tipperary’s defence when he did what was necessary to prevent a goal chance early in the game.

Be it cynical or ruthless, it’s only a yellow card in the current game. It’s something that needs to be addressed, but as it stands the worst that will happen is a yellow card. And as our neighbours to the north-west put it all those years ago “everybody else is doing it; so why can’t we?”

The one concern that came out of the night was that Cork leaked two goals and looked like they could have conceded more. There was always a massive space between the Cork half-back line and what was often a two-man Waterford full-forward line.

When you play like that you’re always playing with fire but as it didn’t happen in Limerick, you’d have to conclude it was just a case of chasing a big score and that they were pushing up on a vulnerable Waterford team. On the other side of that, the response to both Waterford goals was exemplary.

26,000 souls made the trip down to Ballintemple and the sojourn back into town afterwards was a pleasant one. It was the case of a job well done but there was also enough trepidation of what’s to come to keep everyone’s feet on the ground. There were conversations about permutations and calculations and even a few murmurs that if Limerick lost to Clare…. It’s always best to just concentrate on ourselves.

It all leaves Cork with four points after three games; the exact same amount they had at this stage last year. This year is very similar too in that Cork are operating under the radar to some extent. The Tipp game was an obvious disappointed, Waterford was a case of doing what was expected but events have dictated that the win in Limerick was more to do with Limerick rustiness than Cork excellence. Plus ça change.

As for Ennis? I’ll need a few more days to think about that one.

John Coleman

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